Biggest thanks for Ace-Triad helping me with SPAG edit. Also thanks to Angel Wraith for reading my rough draft and provide important feedbacks, in addition most of the interaction between Ellie and Abby in this chapter was written by him, with a few tweaks I added to fit my story.
Yeoman Gaunt is a character dedicated my long time reader/consultant Commissar Gaunt, who helped bouncing off ideas and clarify a lot of things regarding politics and medical issues in my story. Thank you very much for your help!
A bit of a shout out time again, XBOY40 is writing their own story [The Shield Hero and Sorceress Princess]. I haven't talked with them about their plot as extensively as Angel Wraith so I don't know what direction they are going, but they are already taken the story in a new direction where Malty didn't fake her identity when approaching Naofumi. I recommend everyone who wants to see Malty's character gets expanded to check it out if you haven't already.
More author note at the end for people who are interested to see me blabber some more.
Interlude 10-1: Incubation of Cardinal Heroes - Shield
The man in the traveling cloak introduced himself as Yeoman Gaunt, and politely asked permission to search their wagon. It sounds like a reasonable request, so Naofumi allowed it. He sits on the grass, looking at Farkas and Yatsuhashi giving evil eyes to the soldiers. Finally, the search is done and their escort is assembled. Their party starts moving east again surrounded by soldiers on filorials.
They first passed a drawbridge. It's name was 'Thomas Golladay', their guide administrator helpfully explained, and it marks the border between Rabier county and Ascart county back in the day when the former hadn't fallen into bandits' hands.
The young man gives a quick glance inside the wagon, making sure his companions aren't too disturbed. Éclair is resting, or maybe puking at the end of the tailgate. Raphtalia is sending more light orbs over her head. Mein is resting on Raphtalia's legs, recovering from her more recent injuries...
Naofumi knew he messed up again. No, that didn't come out right. That implies he usually does things right and has only messed up now. It's more accurate to say for most of his life, he's been making wrong decisions over and over again. His track record didn't improve after his life turned into an isekai light novel.
He knew he made the wrong call even before his new experience as a kidnapping victim, back when everyone talked around their campfire in Flute. The way Mein's head fell down when he had denied any interest in politics, and only wanted to spend a quiet life with her in Samphor.
He knew Mein isn't a peasant girl, and she very well might be one of the Ascart daughters, but it still felt the right thing to say: Telling her that he has no interest in being a part of the system that disgraced her father, and she's more important to him than getting whatever favor or title from the royal family.
He only feels like slapping himself after he gives his answer. Of course, if 'Mein' is one of the Ascart daughters who didn't want to play politics, she'd stay in Samphor and not get involved with whatever scheme the king, or maybe the Three Heroes' Church cooked up together for him. She was probably betting on his support to have her father's name cleared, and he flat out denied it in her face.
Messed his chance for companion loyalty quest big time, might have closed it off for good...
The young man lets out a bitter snort at himself. For all his posturing on his fellow heroes about this world isn't a game, he himself still tries to understand with game logic from time to time... pathetic.
"Is there anything wrong, my thane?" The head of his bodyguard pushes through the flap and gives him a concerned look. "Are the Ascart bothering you?"
"Nothing like that." Naofumi waves his hand towards Yatsuhashi, trying to think of something to placate the dutiful giant. "Just thought the whole Rabier trip could have been better, if I was more careful."
"Maybe, but we didn't have much choice." The tanned man nods his head along, his eyes glaze over thinking about the past two days. "Towair wouldn't have let you get away."
"Hmm..." Naofumi gives back a noncommittal hum and sinks back to his own thoughts again.
Understanding other people has always been hard, a video game is easier with its simpler rules.
Not to mention how differently he was being treated in this world.
Back home, he's just some random loser below notice even by his family. Probably waiting for a life working as a corporate cattle for some greedy company with his unremarkable economics degree. Will he even be able to get married to someone and have his own family, or will he work himself to an early death like how some of those other isekai novels start?
Here in this isekai world - Medea, he reminds himself. This isekai world has a name - he is somebody: People look up to him, listen to what he says, values his opinion one way or another. Even the constant antagonizing from the king is... he's not happy about it, but it also makes him feel special when he's important enough to be noticed and opposed by a king. All of it fills him with an emotional high and a sense of purpose he was never able to experience back home.
It also reminds him how bad when he does mess things up. Like how his decision played a part in Balafon's near destruction.
Don't give in to blind superstitions and destroy everything you don't understand, that had felt like the right choice at the time. He forgot in this world, gods and monsters are real and not simple make belief. A half destroyed village filled with blankets covered bodies was the result.
And Mein, his very first companion, ends up hurting her own heart to stop that overgrown bean sprout thing. Will he ever live up to his promise of protecting his companions? Nobody has jumped in front to take a bullet meant for him yet, but It feels like they have been protecting him all this time. Not the other way around, like how it's supposed to be.
A building with a pointy brown roof can be seen far in the distance, above what seems like an endless sea of green trees and foliage. As their small caravan rolls along and turns a corner, Naofumi realizes it's a wooden watch tower with more soldiers patrolling around. One of them with a thin mustache shouts to their guide. "Yeoman Gaunt, we heard from Eren you are coming. Someone finally took that bitch, huh?"
The administrator simply nods back to the guardsman without saying anything. The soldier doesn't look offended by the lack of reply. Another, younger and clean shaved guardsman spits on the ground. "She's finally getting what's coming."
Their caravan passes the outpost not long after. They pass two more outposts on the way, till the road makes another turn around the inclining hills and a town hugged by mountains and forest comes into Naofumi's sight.
There are multiple wooden lumber mills outside alongside the road, in better condition than the abandoned one outside Lute. Closer to the city wall are what appears to be fruit orchards, and some grain and vegetable fields similar to the ones outside Balafon. Inside the safety of the stonewall, most buildings are made entirely of wood. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the town Samphor produces.
The sound of someone plucking at strings can be heard alongside the road besides the field. Naofumi's eyes wander over, and sees a young woman with tied back brown hair plucking away at a wooden guitar... or is it a lute? He's not very knowledgeable about musical instruments. Another young woman holding a boy sits on the same stump beside her with a young boy in her arms, their shoulders touching each other. Around them children, both human and demi-human, sit around her, listening to the music.
With an ear piercing snap, one of the string tears in half. The musician shots up from the ground, her wooden guitar falls onto the ground. The woman's eyes completely focused on the prong form on one of the guard's filorial. Her blank face slowly turns into one of anger as she approaches their caravan. "Is that...?"
"The Bitch Lord, Ellie." As their caravan slows down, one of the riding guardsmen reaches over and rests his hand on the woman's shoulder. "Lord Shield Hero and his party have taken her down. The long-awaited justice is finally served."
"Justice may be busy, but never blind." Naofumi can't help but feel Ellie is quoting from someone. The musician walks through the guards to where the captured bandit lord rests. She rips the rags from Bitch Lord's mouth and practically spits in her face. "Today, it finally finds you. You faithless rat fuck."
"You... you are that little leftover Rabier's ranger saved from the sacking. All grown up, I see." The bandit lord sneers back at the musician. Even at the end of the road, she is still full of scorn and vitriol. He suppose there are people who simply can't turn for the better. "Look at you, acting all high and mighty now. When you don't even have the guts to come at me after I took off that old fuck's head. How do you like that, huh?"
"Joel wanted me to live my life, not pissing my life away avenging him. He didn't want me to turn into you." Ellie actually spits on the Bitch Lord this time. The woman with the boy quickly makes her way over, she shifts the boy's weight on one arm, and coils her free hand around Ellie's shoulder. Ellie reciprocates the affection by putting a hand on the other woman's waist. "I have a life here in Samphor, I have a family. What do you have to show for at the end of the rope, you filthy bitch?"
This world already accepted same sex couples? Naofumi can't help but still be surprised at how real a world built on video games like physics can still be.
"What I have to show for?" The Bitch Lord snarls back at the musician. "I lived like a queen, when you wasted your life playing family as a filthy commoner."
"Don't flatter yourself, you lived like a filthy criminal playing lord. And now here you are , tied up like a dog ready to get sent to the gallows. What do you want to show for at the end of your pathetic life Abby?" The Musician spits on the face of the bandit leader. "...Nothing I'll tell you, absolutely nothing. None of your men are going to stage some big last minute breakout , we both know they couldn't even give two shits about you. Hell, some of them are probably going to celebrate hearing of your death. They get to be in charge now."
The Bitch Lord snarls back at Ellie. "I was the one who brought down the Rabier family! People will always remember that!"
The musician pulls her head back to laugh at the captured bandit. "So? You think you're going to live on in history as some special feared bandit, like Dread Pirate Roberts? Don't count on it. At best, you'll just be another story of some demi bitch who thought she was more important than she actually was. And I don't mean that people won't celebrate your death, I mean they'll care so little they won't even bother to remember your name. You came from nothing Abby ... and now you die as nothing."
Ellie begins to walk off , seemingly not caring of the bitchlord's howling anymore ... right before she turned around and socked the bandit right in the face, knocking a few teeth out. "That one was for Joel you rat fucking bitch face."
Ellie turns her nose at the captured bandit one last time. She turns around with her... girlfriend, wife? Regardless, the musician no longer finds any interest in the screeching bandit.
"There comes Lord Ascart, Lord Shield Hero." Yeoman Gaunt's voice brings Naofumi's attention away from the unconventional musician couple. He looks further down the main road cutting through the town towards the castle built into the cliff, and sees a group of people with colorful cloth slowly coming towards them in the distance.
So, he's finally about to meet the real parent of 'Mein of Samphor'. The college student whispers back into his caravan. "Lord Ascart is coming, Mein. You want to... meet them?"
Silence awaits him as the lord and his attendants slowly make their way towards him. When they are a few dozen paces away from the gate, a reply finally comes out. "I'm still tired, Master Naofumi. I'll rest, if you don't mind."
"Oh, of course..." Naofumi nods his head along. As much as he hates to admit it, he prefers Mein not showing her face to the Lord of Samphor. If she really is his daughter... It'll be very awkward to say the least to tell her father how he got her disfigured... and crippled.
"Announcing the arrival of his lordship, Count Dan Ascart." With the blow of a trumpet, a servant announces the proper arrival of the count. It seems like even after his demotion, the count is still enjoying great fanfare in his own land. The lord in question has well trimmed short black hair and wears a suit of dark grey coat and matching dress pants. He is followed by a blonde woman in a peach colored dress gown, two girls with white and light purple colored hair respectively.
It doesn't take too long for Naofumi to figure out which one was the cursed child that's supposed to be half white-tiger. But what about the other girl? With her golden trimmed, white silk dress she's too well dressed for a servant, probably. But wasn't 'Mein of Samphor' her sister, or maybe that's a visiting friend? Even decadent nobles still have good friends... right?
Naofumi's sight sets on the other... person standing on the other side of the 'cursed child'. He fights against the blush forming on his face, but probably failed considering the heat he is feeling. The teenage... it's hard to tell if they are a girl or a boy with their androgynous appearance and silk like dark hair that practically shines behind his ears reaching his neck. His dark eyes have a hint of melancholy that is enough to lose one's mind in like staring at a clear night sky. A delicate nose and a pair of thin red lips that practically invites other people for a kiss sits on his immaculate pale skin.
The young man from earth isn't a stranger to the idea of idols of both genders who built their careers on their pretty faces. Yet this... person puts them all to shame. If that's not the definition of 'devilishly beautiful', he doesn't know what is. And they certainly still bear enough resemblance to Lord Ascart.
But if this is the other Ascart child, who is 'Mein'?
"Lord Shield Hero, I welcome you to Samphor with my wife Radea." The lady with blonde hair bows at him together with Count Ascart.
"And my son Nicol, daughter Sophia." The now identified androgynous boy and white haired girl both bow to him after their parents.
"Three dots on true faith, Lord Shield Hero." The purple haired girl in white dress makes a triangle gesture in front of her chest. Actually, now she has a chance to speak, her voice is much deeper than a girl's, and it appears she is an adult woman with a youthful looking face. "I am Julia Deirdre Velthomer. I may be of Three Heroes faith, but please let me thank you for making my good friend Sophia safe."
The importance of her self-introduction completely flew over Naofumi's head. Thankfully, his companion is quick to pick up the slack for him. After a short gasp, he can hear Éclair whisper to him behind the drape. "She's the daughter of Duke Arvis Victor Velthomer, the most powerful family in north eastern Melromarc, descendant of Naga and Fjalar bloodlines."
The young man can't help but feel there are too many dukes or 'powerful families' for him to remember. And what about those 'bloodlines'? More previous generation of heroes?
"On behalf of all the good people of Silver Pass, I thank you for your service in taking down the notorious Bitch Lord." The count slowly raises his head together with his family. "Our land isn't the wealthiest, but we are willing to compensate you for the service rendered to the realm within our abilities."
The college student looked around, and more people gathered behind the count's group. No doubt common people who are curious to see what the fuss is about. They all look healthy, and their clothes are clean and without patches. From the glance, at least this lord does take care of his people like Mein told him. "There's no need for a reward. Please, use the money for your own people. And I didn't take down the bandit out of my choice. Her accomplice from Siltvelt kidnapped me, and my companions rescued me, took down the Bitch Lord."
That's the responsible thing to do, right?
The round of gasping voices breaks out both from his escort, and the count's group. Lord Ascart quickly rises one arm over his head to bring back order. "Accomplice from Siltvelt? That is a serious accusation even against a hardened criminal. Are you sure, Lord Shield Hero?"
"Their leader held the Moon Talon. Exalted weapon of the Raven Lords." Éclair crawls through the cloth drape to support his claim.
A new round of gasp comes out, but Count Ascart once again stops it. "This explains how bandit rubbles repeatedly humiliated lord steward Reichnott's attempts to reclaim the lost Rabier County... and a major breach of our security, if the Deceiver had a base of operation in our nation over two decades. But if you don't mind me asking, my lord. How did your companions manage to rescue you from the Raven Lord?"
"We had some unexpected help he wasn't expecting. And we forced his retreat." Éclair looks over at the gathered group. "Towair released a sealed ancient thunder lizard to cover his escape. We killed it down, about a day's journey to the west."
The gathered crowd now looks to paralyzed to even gasp anymore.
"All those details complicate matters, I'm afraid. But this is too good an opportunity to waste. I will call aid from all my fellow lords, Head scribe Malcolm." A man in green hooded cloaks steps out of the group. "Have your fellow scribes draft letters for all my fellow Silver Pass lords. We'll call our men, and take Rabier County back from the bandits. We will not give Towair another chance to rebuild his operation."
"As you wish, my lord." The scribe bows down and places one open palm over his heart. He backs away till he leaves earshot, and turns around running back towards the castle.
"I will lend my assistance in the upcoming battle, Lord Ascart." Julia let go of Sophia's left hand and steps forward.
"It'll be dangerous, Lady Julia!" Sophia lets out a squeaking sounding protest. Her face turns red after her outburst, and her voice falls into a soft whisper. "Can't you ask your elder brothers, Lord Seliph or Lord Julius?"
"They are both preparing for the king's summon with my Lord Father Arvis, Lady Sophia." Julia turns around to look at her friend. She closes both of her hands around the younger girl. "Worry not for me, my friend. I too, am a descendant of the Holy Crusaders, like my brothers before me. Lord Naga will watch over me."
"Yeoman Gaunt." Count Ascart turns to their guide next. "If we want a stable Rabier County, we'll have to find someone who the lord won't dispute taking the position. Someone related to the late Count Rabier is best, maybe an illegitimate child who survived the sacking. I'll need you to go over all the church records, see if you can find a child from one of the Rabier."
"The work will take weeks to go over, especially when I have to cross reference it with record of all the people living in Silver Pass. I will need assistants, and compensation." Naofumi rises an eyebrow at the administrator's request. To think the man openly requested compensation for going over books, while he denied reward for taking down the Bitch Lord. Is this something accepted in this country?
"I will have all the scribes assist you after they draft the letters. Finding an heir to Rabier seat is crucial to ensure there's no loophole for Towair the Deceiver to exploit to sow further discord. All of you will be fairly compensated for your service to the realm." The administrator steps back, clearly satisfied with the Count's answer, and Lord Ascart turns to his son. "Nicol, you'll be in charge of Samphor while I'm gone, it'll be a good experience to familiarize yourself with your future duties. Listen to the counsel of Head Scribe Malcolm and your mother. She doesn't rule herself, but she has always been beside me through everything. She'll have the experience you lack. Protect your sister and mother while I'm away."
"Of course, father." Nicol inclines his head and replies. The lack of emotion in his tone reminds Naofumi of Kyubey.
The Bitch Lord is passed to a pair of guards from Lord Ascart's group. They pushed her towards the gallows in the distance outside the town wall. The gathered crowds, both human and demi-human throw rocks at the bandit even as the bandit holds her head high. Naofumi and his companions wordlessly follow the count's group. He tries to start a conversation with the lord to make the mood a bit less solemn. "I thought you had two daughters?"
Count Ascart turns his head and wordlessly looks at Naofumi, making the young man wonder if he managed to offend the lord. After a short period of uncomfortable silence, the older man finally speaks. "I have a son Nicol, and a daughter Sophia. But many mistake Nicol for a daughter due to rumors of his beauty. It's not a rumor worth dispelling, we like to keep to ourselves."
"Because of the queen?" The young man bites his lips as he tries to force back his scorn. He doesn't want to sound like the Bitch Lord, but he has a hard time keeping his more negative emotions. "She had no right to use you, and toss you away like trash."
"What happened was unfortunate, but given the circumstances... Queen Mirellia did her best." Count Ascart's reply surprised the former college student. There's no anger, or resentment in the older gentleman's voice, only a sense of tiredness that sounds like it sunk into the marrow of his bones.
Saying Naofumi is surprised by this response is a bit of understatement. Considering his own experience with the queen's husband, he wouldn't be as forgiving in the count's situation. Yes, he sympathizes with what King Melromarc went through during the war, but he can't exactly forget all the unfair treatment he received because of it. "You don't mind her using you like a scapegoat?"
"I see someone has filled you with a brief history lesson, my Lord. But what happens in the queen's court is always much more complex..." The Count's footstep slows down as they near the execution site, his face even more grim than before. "Queen Mirellia has always been the more headstrong princess, and she didn't tolerate beastman and demi-human as much as her mother and sister. But for their honor and memory, she tried her best to treat them fairly for the demi-human are also victims of the Great War. A task made exponentially harder thanks to Siltvelt's treatment of our people during the occupation. That was why she tasked me, a minor lord not connected with any great houses, to design and establish policies regarding our demi-human population. My neutrality and isolation from my fellow lords makes me completely loyal to her majesty, and she can trust my impartial judgment."
The guards push the Bitch Lord onto the wooden stand, they fasten the rope around the muscular woman and tie the noose around her neck.
"You don't have to watch this, Sophia." The pretty boy, Nicol walks in front of his younger sister.
"I want to." Sophia's voice is trembling, but she steps out behind her brother. The white haired girl steals herself, as she holds onto her brother, and Julia's hand. "It's my duty too."
"Unfortunately, my weak standing with my fellow lords also meant I had no ally to shield me during a crisis. When Sophia was born, the more... traditionalist lords used her to strike at me." Count Ascart's fist tightens when speaking about his daughter's treatment. It's clear the forgiveness he gave to the queen doesn't extend to his fellow nobles who harmed his daughter. "Even a queen's protection can only offer so much, especially when she herself was on a weak foundation. Enough Lords backed Prince Joseph of House De Gallia, and she only managed to hold onto her crown thanks to the support of Pope Balmus, and her marriage to our King. She can try to protect me as much as she can, and force the policy through. Doing so would see the new laws ignored outside the capital at best, and sparked a civil war at worst."
A priest dressed in a white robe with a golden triangle sewn in the front walks up to her and starts a prayer. He didn't finish his prayer when the Bitch Lord swept his legs and knocked him down the wooden stage.
"Hurry up, man animal! I don't have all day!" The bandits sneer down at the flustered priest tangled in his own rope and cloak on the dirt.
"As you wish." The priest bites back a curse as he gestures to the guards. "What are you fools waiting for! Hang her!"
"Hang the Bitch! Hang the BITCH! HANG THE BITCH!" The gathered crowd throws more rocks at the captured bandit lords, their feverish chants become louder and louder, forcing the Count to tighten his lips. With the turn of a handle, the wooden board beneath the Bitch Lord's feet gives away and drops her down. After a few labored gasps, the hated bandit leader breathes her last.
"THE BITCH IS FINALLY DEAD!" A man with short brown hair, and barrel-like belly underneath his dark apron and faded green shirt cries out on top of his lung. "FREE DRINKS ON EVERYONE!"
A new round of cheers burst out from the crowd.
Naofumi looks over to the count's daughter. A thin line of red trails down her lips, but the girl didn't turn her head or avoid her eyes.
"A gruesome affair, but needed to carry out justice. Well done, my daughter." Count Ascart walks Sophia to rest a hand on her shoulder. The young girl nearly falls down with the sudden pressure, if it wasn't for both her brother and friend tightening their grips on her hands. The count also reaches his arms below Sophia's arms to support her. "Take your sister for a rest, Nicol. Sophia more than earned it."
"Yes, father." The boy that's prettier than most girls gives another cordial nod. He leads Sophia away with the help of some servants. With courtesy, the silent Countess joins her children away from the masses celebrating the death of the bandit leader.
The count turns to face Naofumi again, his eyes half closed. It's hard to tell if the exhaustion comes from seeing the state of his daughter, or his trip down the memory lane. "Of course, my queen chose to discontinue her new laws regarding beastman and demi-human. By publicly disgracing me and exile me back to my land, she showed the rest of nobility I have lost her favor. On my own, I am simply a minor lord from the rim of the nation who can't affect anything in the court, and isn't worth their attention."
"Are you saying... the queen's punishment did you a favor?" Naofumi looks at the count up and down, trying to find any lingering sign of deception. If the count still has any resentment towards the queen, he isn't showing it. "Aren't you afraid of someone petty enough to harm you, or your family?"
"I wouldn't say a favor. It was more of the best choice of the situation. As for my fellow nobles being petty... it's a boon granted to us privileged ones." Lord Ascart slowly shakes his head. Once again, it's hard to tell if he is simply denying Naofumi's question, or if showing distaste towards other nobles. "There are bandit raids, assassination attempt as usual. One can never prove who was behind them. But my people's hearts are stronger than the ancient pine trees dotted on my lands, and with their support I can protect my family."
The count's eye slowly traces further towards the retreating form of his family. Warms of fondness slowly return to his dark eyes. "I do not blame my queen for her decisions, it's never easy to preside over a large nation of common folks and nobles with conflicting interest, and her verdict served me well enough. But make no mistake, my lord. I have no intention to return to my queen, fellow nobles, and their games. It's not something for the honorable or righteous. I have already given enough to my queen, and my nation. I will devote the rest of my life to my family, and my people."
"That's smart." Naofumi nods his head along. But one question remains... if 'Mein of Samphor' isn't Lord Ascart's daughter, who might she be? "You don't happen to know a girl named 'Mein', do you? Red hair, about the same age, maybe one or two years older than your son?"
Count Ascart blinks at the name for a short moment, he turns to look at one of the older maids who has red hair a few shades darker than Mein. "That's the name of your daughter, wasn't it? Sophie? Didn't she go to the capital to become an adventurer a while ago?"
The Shield Hero raises his eyebrow at how similar the maid's name is to the lord's daughter. But that's not the surprising thing.
No way... could Mein have been telling him the truth all along? But... how to explain all her slip ups that's more fitting to a pampered noble?
"Certainly, my lord!" The middle aged woman claps her hands together. "She wrote in her last letter about joining the party of a famous adventurer... but I never thought she meant the Shield Hero!"
"Huh... She is resting in our wagon. We had a pretty rough fight with the bandits... and a giant dino." Naofumi points his hand towards their carriage a short run from them. "Do you want to... I don't know. See your daughter?"
"Oh, no. If the fight is tough as my lord says, she'll need her eight hours of rest. I'm sure I can see her later." The middle aged maid is clearly too emotional, she rambles on a little, before finally bowing to the college student and utters her thanks. "Thank you for keeping my daughter safe, Lord Shield Hero."
Except I didn't keep her safe... she's disfigured, and crippled because I can't keep one promise and do one job I'm supposed to be good at.
That's something he should have told Mein's mother. But his mouth is glued shut, not able to utter those words even after his party picked some newer equipment from the Count's armory, after they refilled their food and water from the inn, or even as the town of Samphor slowly disappeared behind their cart.
Just like how he can't tell Mein that he isn't some special prodigy going to a hero school, trained and tested to be their savior. He's just a dime a dozen slackers who would have ended up with a dead end desk job - a corporate cattle - of some abusive company if he wasn't lucky enough to pick up a magical book.
People can call him a hero, but he is still a coward at heart...
Interlude 10-2: Incubation of Cardinal Heroes - Spear
The sound of a hoe falling down into earth slowly becomes a rhythm while he hums a happy tune from home. The burning feeling in his arms, shoulder, and legs slowly disappear as he moves his arms up and down while walking forward.
"That's more than enough, Lord Spear Hero." The elder of Balafon calls him from the side. Turning his head towards the older gentleman, he takes the offered blanket to wipe away sweat from his face. "Anymore, we won't have enough seed to sown the field. Or have enough men for harvest."
"Right, Mr. Zylden said something about them growing fast thanks to magic." He nods along, remembering the short man. Zylden may only reach his hip in height, but he is smart enough to chat with Iris, and that's something to respect. He himself can barely talk with the rich girl for five minutes before he loses himself upside down behind a piece of furniture. He rests his Hoe Spear over his shoulder while he slowly walks back towards the village with the elder. "Do you think I got stronger after Naofumi left?"
He already wasted too much time before meeting Iris and her friend, and now he's doing his best to catch up to other heroes. He just hopes he'll have a chance to return their kindness to him, and grow strong enough to protect them before the next wave hits.
The village elder scratches his beard, the old man's face reminds him of a dazed sparrow after hitting a window. "Well... I don't know anything about fighting. Been plowing fields and herding muffalo here in Balafon all my life. But it's a good thing heroes like you and Lord Shield are here helping us common folks. From what I heard, most other heroes are lazy around doing nothing, or totally insane and starting rebellions."
"That's not very nice." It takes a few moments for him to realize what the elder said. "Other heroes? Like the king?"
"Yeah, the other heroes who are chosen by the seven star weapons. I don't know a lot of them, but Gauntlet and Claw Heroes from Siltvelt loiter around in luxury, drinking and whoring like no good animals. Pardon my language. Faubley's Whip Hero was much the same, and to think he used to be a good old farm boy like me before he got adopted by their king." The elder shakes his head with disgust as he continues into his rant.
The older man's annoyance at other heroes makes him feel embarrassed for how he started out his own hero journey. He thought being a hero will be much easier than his last life, thanks to his video game knowledge and the growing weapon. Completely ignored the feelings of other people around him.
"Hammer Hero is just flat out insane... from what I heard he turned traitor and started his own band of no good raiders like that filthy Bitch Lord. Vassal Axe still hasn't picked a new wielder yet after the death of the last user, and Zeltbole's Throwing Weapon just summoned a new wielder..."
"Summoned, like us?" He is a bit surprised at this reveal. When Iris told him about the Seven Star Weapons, he thought they pick users from this world. Not summon them from other worlds like earth.
"Yeah, a vassal weapon can also summon heroes from other worlds. I'm no mage either, but I heard it's harder to summon a hero than picking a worthy wielder. That's probably why most vassal heroes are chosen on our lands." The elder nods his head along before pointing his finger towards Zylden in the distance. "You should probably ask Mr. Zylden. He'll know more."
"That's a good idea. Thanks for answering my questions, Mr. elder" He hands the piece of cloth back to the kind old man. He just hopes he can remember all the questions when he talk to Zylden next time. He isn't exactly good at holding too many thoughts in his mind. Especially things he doesn't need to know or remember for a short term, and merely feel curious about.
"Anytime. Don't worry too much." The elder gives his shoulder another squeeze before he part ways towards the village gate. "You and Lord Shield are good people. Any lord who'll leave their castle, pick up a hoe or sickle to help us simple folks have a good heart."
It's not exactly the moments when Bertia or Katarina cheers him when he feels like total failure, but he still feels pumped after the praise from the village elder. Speaking of his more affectionate companions... They are both standing about twenty paces away, staring at him.
Katarina has put her own hoe down. She started helping the other farmer planting seeds after he took over the heavy lifting to train his body. But right now, she is standing perfectly still besides Bertia. Both girls staring at him with an even more accurate 'dazed window hitting sparrow' look on their red faces.
He covers his eyes with his free hand, looking up at the sun hovering towards the middle of the sky.
He's being inconsiderate again, isn't he? He was so completely absorbed in trying to train his body, he didn't notice his companions were getting too much heat trying to keep up. That's not good, over heat can be dangerous especially if they aren't drinking enough water.
He makes his way towards his two companions. Bertia lets out a squeaky 'MEEP' as she drops on the ground with a heavy thud. He hasn't even covered half the distance yet.
He's already too late.
He picks up his steps and manages to reach Katarina before anything bad happens to her too. "It's hot, Katarina. Did you drink enough water?"
"...Hmm..." The normally energetic girl simply nods along while making some strange noise.
"Heat stroke is very dangerous, people can die from dehydration. You have to make sure you are properly cooled off, and hydrated when working under the sun." He kneels down and puts a hand on Bertia's forehead. Yes, it's definitely very hot, but he doesn't know if it's serious like a heat stroke. Now he wishes he actually paid more attention during first aid classes, or at least has water affinity.
"Unhuh?" More intelligible sound comes from Katarina. He looks up, worried at his other companion and sees her face glowing red like Bertia did moment before losing her consciousness.
"You don't look too well, Katarina. Want me to call your maid Miss Anna?" He crawls halfway up, and touches his forehead with hers. Katarina is definitely burning up, not a good sign.
"MEEP!" With a squeaky sound, the normally peppy girl also drops on the plowed dirt.
Oh no, this is very bad. Both girls will need medical attention quickly, but he can only take one with his arms. Well... he could probably carry them both in his arms if he really tried thanks to his strength growing as a hero. Bertia has been losing a lot of weight and she had a rather petty figure. But it won't be comfortable for them.
Looking at his Hoe Spear, he waves it around and turns it into a bundle of ropes. Honestly, it looks more like a whip than a spear, but no point complaining about something being helpful. He carries Katarina on his back and fastens her with the new rope, and picks up Bertia with his arms. Time to find some help fast.
Not too far away from the village gate, Iris is going over some more documents sitting on a lawn chair underneath an umbrella. A girl with blue hair can be heard reporting some numbers. He thought she looked familiar before remembering the girl's name being Elena Heaven. She is distantly related to Iris... something about being a branch of Iris' family but aren't nobility. Because of who their mothers, or fathers, or something? The nobles are weird and hard to figure out.
Anyways, Miss Heaven helps manage the business of Iris' family, and sometimes she meets up with Iris. She looks over to his direction, and her face turns red too. The heat is slowly getting to everyone, even those not working in the field. That's not good.
"Elena, continue your report." Iris daintily picks up her tea cup, not understanding the severity of the situation. She daintily brings the beverage to her delicate lips, daintily takes a graceful sip, daintily puts the cup down onto the plate, daintily looks at his direction, daintily blows the tea out of her nose.
A series of furious coughing ensues. "MA ... Master Motoyasu! Have you no decency!? Why are you SHIRTLESS?!"
"Well... the sun is very big today and it's hot. So I figured I'd sweat a lot..." He walks over to Iris' tea table and sets both Bertia and Katarina down into the empty chairs.
"Yes, I know! That's why I imported the best tundra cotton from Zora's Field near Winterfell, and paid Royal Castrate to weave them into your customized working overall!" Iris' voice is surprisingly loud. Guess the heat is starting to get someone as calm as Iris.
For how smart she is, Iris can be very silly. So he smiles and waves his hand at her, trying to ease her needless worry. "Haha."
"Master... Motoyasu..." A few vain visibly pops up on Iris' face, that can't be good for her blood pressure. "Contrary to what you obviously believe, 'smile and wave' is not an answer for... well, ANYTHING!"
"Well... You cost a fortune to make them for me. So I can't possibly get them dirty like this." He takes two pieces of cloth out of his spear storage, and damp them up from the nearby cistern and drapes them over Katarina and Bertia's heads. "That's why I worked bare chest. It's cooler, and I don't get your expansive overall dirty. Two birds with one stone, nope?"
"Then what is the point of me going- MEEP!" With the now all too familiar squeak and thud, his last companion succumbs to heat stroke. The situation is even more dire than he imagined.
"What the hell!" He looks up, and immediately looks sideways when he feels Tanya's glare bears down at him full force. "I haven't left you kids alone for ten minutes!"
After the farming session to help him build strength, afternoon is when he goes into full training. Usually, he practices how to properly use a spear together with Miss Anna under the tutelage of Miss Tanya. But since both of them are currently catering to the three heat stroke girls... he has a different trainer today.
"YOU ARE WEAK! SHIT MAGGOT!" The scabbard of a sword hit him on the back of his head, making him see stars. "SAY MY NAME!"
He isn't a stranger to push ups, even if he wasn't the most physically fit individual back in his world. But with his level and stats growth in this video game-like world, doing push ups should be easy, right?
Turns out it's not as easy as he thought, when he has a boulder the size of a millstone on his back... which his trainer is sitting on, and will whack him on the head when he slows down even a second.
"Master... DIDA!" He picks up his pace, trying his best to avoid Coach Dida's scabbard head chops.
"WHO AM I?!"
"Master Dida is a GOOD MAN! STRONG MAN!"
"WHAT ARE YOU?!"
"Saddest... spineless, pale, pathetic YOU EVER MEET!"
"WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!"
"Let Master Dida... MAKE A MAN OUT OF ME!"
He feels the weight of the world crashing down on him as the boulder presses him down into the dirt. He was a fool in school for cutting gym. Before his vision goes dark, he says the last thing he sees. "Ah... field of... beautiful flowers."
The next time he comes to, he is lying in a bed right beside Iris. Thankfully, there's no sign of any lingering side effects on the face of his rich girl companion. With how harsh her face looks, he would have thought he's the one who needed emergency medical attention. "You are awake, Master Motoyasu. You had me... worried."
"Ah, did I fall asleep during my training? Coach Dida won't be happy." He flips up from his bed and starts looking for some clothes to throw on. That's when he notices the bandages around his body. He pokes himself on the stomach. "What are these for?"
"Dida is being... reprimanded." Iris' face looks like she's sucking on a piece of lemon... probably a rotten one too. "He won't be allowed near you any time soon. I'll ask Lyle for a substitute next time, if Tanya is too busy to tutor and train you."
"Oh, did he get in trouble because I fell asleep? That's not fair." He rips off his bandages and throws on his shirt. "Coach shouldn't be punished because I didn't do well."
Iris looks like she swallowed said rotten lemon by now. Did he say something to upset her? She takes a few deep breaths, and explains in her usual calm voice. "The 'rock' he had you carry during your push up exercise was a piece of raw titanite ore. You could have broken your back and died, especially when it crushed you."
"Oh, okay." He probably shouldn't have frozen up at hearing this, since he's hopping on one leg trying to get his pants armor on. He ends up crushing on the side of his bed and tumbling onto the floor. Good thing it doesn't really hurt, just dazed him a little. "But I got stronger after my exercise, right?"
"Well... yes I supposed. But didn't you hear me? You could have died!" The voice of his rich companion is rising once again.
"I could also have died fighting in the wave, or some boss monster from the dungeon. But I have to do them, because I'm one of the heroes, and I have to protect people." He grabs a post on his bed and slowly crawls back up again. This time, he decided to sit on the edge of his bed and put his armor on. He grabs Iris' hand, the one where the ring sits on her finger. "Sorry, that came out wrong. I want to protect all the people who have been good to me. Especially you."
"I mean, I also want to protect Katarina and Bertia. Miss Tanya and Anna too." He scratches his hair, thinking if he is being unfair to everyone else, especially Katarina and Bertia. But then... he realizes even with all the girls who have been kind to him, Iris has always been special. "I'm a pretty clueless guy, and I'd be lost if there's not someone smart showing me what to do. You always put up with me no matter how much I annoy you, and you show me how to be a proper hero. Everything I did right, I have you to thank for, Iris."
The rich noble girl's face turns red once again. Her head whips away, but she doesn't try to rip her hand out. "You, you are very welcome, Master Motoyasu."
"Well, I'm happy you are fine now, Iris. I don't see Katarina or Bertia, so they must be okay too." He throws on his chest armor and cloak on, ready to head out again. "I better do some more training before this day is done, because I have a lot of catching up to do."
"Yes... you do that." Iris nods her head along as he opens the door to outside. "Master Motoyasu!"
He looks back at the normally reserved noble lady.
"Don't... do something too mad. I don't want you to hurt yourself."
"Yeah, don't worry. I have to stay healthy to protect you." He gives Iris a thumb up as he strolls outside. The sun is slowly going down over the mountains, but near the gate of the village Miss Tanya and Anna are going over their spear forms. A bunch of children, even some adults are sitting around watching them train. He quickly reaches them and start stretching his arms and legs. "Sorry I'm late, I'll be ready in a flash."
"Are you healthy enough to train after what Dida did, Lord Motoyasu?" Tanya gives him a rather unsure glare. "It would be counterproductive if you hurt yourself more."
"YES! All healed!" He waves his body around, even making a bridge to show there's nothing wrong with his back. "See?"
"Heroes... Have such a broken healing factor..." Tanya mumbles something under her breath before putting on her stern trainer face. "Okay, we'll start simple with a few basic spear forms before-"
"HELP!" A terrified scream high enough to shatter glass makes his ear bleed. He looks north towards the road, and sees a girl about Raphtalia's age running towards them down the road. Her traveling cloak looks expensive, like one of those ordered by Iris is now ripped in many places. "Killers! My escort... North!"
"Calm yourself!" Tanya immediately dashes over to the girl. She grabs the girl, stopping her from wildly flailing and looks at the panicking girl in the face. "Take a few deep breaths, tell us what happened."
The child followed her instruction, and she managed to calm herself. "A group of demi-human raiders attacked me. My escorts are still fighting them in the north. Please, help them!"
"Call the guards. They might be raider scouts. We have demi-human bandits north of us." Tanya turns to look at the bewildered villagers. She looks right back at "Stay here where it's safe. Your escorts are already dead."
"NO! They aren't some random sellswords, but they aren't fighting random outlaws!" The girl starts to squirm in Tanya's arms, clearly distressed that nobody is going to help her friends. "Please, you HAVE to help them!"
"I'll go take a look." He quickly changes his spear into one of the smaller and lighter forms as he sprints towards the direction the girl came from.
"Don't act dumb, Lord Motoyasu! You don't even know how many there are!" Tanya's voice tries to stop him, but he already sped past Iris' maid and bodyguard.
"I'm just going to take a look! I'll be back in a flash!"
It takes him about ten to fifteen minutes of running till he hears the sound of swishing blades and clanking swords. In the distance, three figures are already not moving in pools of red. Six figures in traveling cloaks are flowing in and out at one last armored figure. Some of them try to speed past the armored one, probably trying to chase down the escaped girl. But the armored escort always manages to stop them from bypassing them, even as blood splashes away from their body like flowers. "You filthy animals won't pass while I'm still breathing!"
"[Meteor Spear]!" Seeing the cloaked figures reading to swarm the lone armored fighter again, he immediately fires his strongest weapon ability at them. A five point star shaped energy blast flies out of his spear, and slams onto the ground with the power of its implied name. All seven combatants are knocked flying, or stumble on their feet.
The armored fighter doesn't get up... did he mess up and killed the girl's friend?
Before he even has a moment to worry about killing someone he's supposed to save. The six cloaked figures swooshes towards him. One of them in particular closes in almost in a blink of an eye, all he managed to catch is a pair of long, brown rabbit-like ears on her head and flowing long dark hair before her blade is at his face.
He pulls his spear up too late to keep her out of his range, or a guard. The rabbit girl's blade passes through his neck, and he falls onto the ground, unable to breath. A spear thrust forward behind him, forcing the rabbit girl to flip back as Tanya joins in the fight, screaming at the cloaked fighters. Katarina and her maid Miss Anna not far behind Tanya.
Irileth, charges right after them with a group of Whiterun guards, and Claes soldiers. Now, the cloaked figures are the ones who are being swarmed.
But he still can't breathe! Is this how he dies?
All of sudden, fresh air fills his lungs again. He coughs a few times, catching his breath and aims his weapon at the rabbit raider fighting Tanya. He focuses his weapon art, making sure to compress it from a large area attack to something more suited for a single target. Something outside of [Emerald Online] he learnt from his companions. "[Focused Meteor Spear]."
He fires out the weapon art again, this time looking more like a beam than an energy blast in the shape of a spinning five pointed star. It hits the target right on the chest, sending her flying back into the forest. Four more cloaked figures managed to get away from the guards, leaving two of their fellow fighters dead on the ground.
"TIA~! Don't DIE!" Katarina's pained scream brings his attention back. Tears are trailing down the normally cheerful girl's face as she holds Bertia's body. Bertia's black fox scarf falls on the ground, showing a cut on the smaller girl's neck.
Oh... Didn't dark magic have an ability to transform wounds from a companion onto the user...? That must be how Bertia saved him from suffocating to death. But now she is...
"*Cough*... I'll be... fine. Lady Katarina." Bertia's face is pale, but she manages to squeeze a smile at her friend. "I'm fat... it's just a... flesh wound."
Her fox scarf suddenly springs to life. The pudgy little creature moves up to the redhead, start to lick her wounded neck. He wonders if it's some trick of the light, but her neck wound seems to be slowly closing.
Iris jumps down Yuki, she strolls over to Tanya who is examining the weapon left by one of the dead raiders. "Do you know the weapon they used, Tanya?"
The maid bodyguard gives the large saber a swing, the series of rings connected to the holes on the blade's blunt side make some clunking noise. She narrows her eyes on the blade. "Ringed saber, a weapon favored by Midland Siltvelt bandits. No mark of its makers though."
"Could be anybody. Genuine Siltvelt assassins, or people want to frame Siltvelt for this stunt." Iris flaps open her paper fan and hides her lower face behind it. Her eyes are as narrow as her maid. "But the rabbit woman you fought... that was the 'killer hare', wasn't she?"
"Sir Palmer, Sarah! Don't die!" In a scene very similar to Katarina and Bertia, the blue haired girl is furiously shaking the last standing armored fighter. Now her helmet is taken off, he can see the face belongs to an adult woman. "Master Spear Hero and his companions saved us!"
He can't help but think he didn't really do much in the battle. If it wasn't for Bertia risking herself, he would be one of the dead on the ground.
"Spear Hero, huh...?" The knight slowly opens her eyes. She looks at him up and down with judgemental eyes and smirks at him. "Thought you'd be taller."
I jinxed it again... originally I was planning to have this Interlude be a 4 part POV with wrapping up all four cardinal hero's story. But then I wrote about 5k words with Naofumi along (with some scenes already ended up on the cutting room floor), and I went 'fuck this shit, there's no way I'm making this a 15k-20k chapter'. So yeah, next update will be Itsuki and Ren's interlude...
I wonder if anyone is genuinely surprised that Nicol and Sophia's father kind of took the side of Queen Safespace, even if I been implying he should hates her for what she did after the Great War. But yeah, Dan Ascart kind of defended the queen's action (even if he's no longer working for her) was actually planned from the start. Because I categorically hates how one-dimensional canon RotSH's political play was written. While I'm definitely no GRRM (as once again, I'm pretty sure Dumb & Dumber has more raw talent and creativity than me), I want to at least give the implication of a more complex political situation where there isn't a 'good' or 'right' solution, and decisions made with best of intention are also always filled with bad faith and compromises.
On the coincidence of there actually being a 'Mein of Samphor', it's actually more of a spurt of the moment joke than a genuine asspull moment I give Malty to have her still be safe from Naofumi figuring out her identity being fake. My original plan actually only ended with Naofumi confirming Ascart had a son and a daughter, not two daughters and he wonders who 'Mein of Samphor' really is. But then I decided it would be funny if there really is a real Mein of Samphor, and she'll actually make an appearance in the next Interlude with Ren's perspective.
Not much to say about Motoyasu's POV, just some light hearted shenanigan he has with his villainess companions. Sadly, Katarina doesn't have Bakarina's immunity to charm attack, and Iris' genius level intelligence is no match for Motoyasu when he weaponized his stupidity. Not going to lie, I been wanting to write this scene since the very start of this story, because I really didn't like how Iris was almost always confident and in control of the situation in her own story.
And of course, Melty is saved by the Spear Hero in this story.
Guest review time.
Well... not sure if you are happy or angry Malty is still technically safe with Naofumi. But minor spoilers, next update the real Mein of Samphor's appearance before Ren will blow her fake identity wide open. At least when Naofumi gets another private meeting with Ren again.
Yeah, I can understand AoT isn't going to appeal to anyone. To me, AoT is kind of the opposite RotSH. Where RotSH pretended to be a deconstruction of the typical brain dead power fantasy isekai story, only to turn around and being the exact same brain dead power fantasy isekai story a few chapters later. AoT on the other hand started out like a grittier and edgier Shounen manga, only to turn its head to reveal it's actually a deconstruction, and more of a political commentary on how fear drives people's prejudice.
I think part of the reason why I appreciated the second half of AoT so much is because I was born and raised in China during my childhood, and I immigrated to Canada during my teen years. Seeing both side of the fence made me realize while the Titan (which can basically be a stand-in for any difference you want to insert between two different, antagonizing cultures) is obviously fantasy, but the actual political rhetoric used by both sides are very real and on point to our real world.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the first one to suggest this, but AoT at time feels like the spiritual successor to earlier Gundam show when it was still about portraying the horror of war, before Gundam completely devolved into teen idol BS.
I won't say AoT the best thing since sliced bread, and it has some pretty major pacing issue, but I will definitely remember it for how confident the author is at making me feel uncomfortable and unsettled with their story.
Sorry about my response to your distaste about AoT basically turned into my own rant gushing over why I appreciated it.
I honestly don't have much plan with Reichnott he himself. Considering his whole existence seems to be the author's attempt trying to make Queen Safespace look good by her association with a well meaning noble. So being the contrarian hipster I am, I'm going to have him associate with a corrupt tycoon due to scandals.
And yes, Naofumi leaving the mess behind is more about trouble finding him, but his canon self has always had the 'end justify the means and nobody cares about your intention if you mess up' attitude, which I think is a good ironic situation.
I have to admit, I'm kind of in the mentality of thinking Eclair more as a knight than an aristocrat, and I think Eclair sees herself as a warrior more than a governor too which is probably why she doesn't even notice Naofumi and Malty was being rude to her. But good observation about them still being rude without realizing it, and it definitely give me something to think about for future events.
And once again, I would like to once again point out while Naofumi generally make his decision based on moral, he isn't supposed to be someone on a pedestal without fault. He makes mistakes just like others because of his moralistic perspective is something I'm trying to build up through this story. Probably not very successful.
Yeah, I guess Malty's real identity being her own private business is technically a valid stance. Although obviously with her being a princess and nobody knows about it, it's going to cause some major consequences later *wink wink*.
Thank you! Glad you like the way I characterized them.
Yeah, Naofumi got it light thanks to his hero status. Funny enough, my first draft only had Levi verbally threatens him, but then I realized that's not Levi at all. He's the kind of person who would deck Jesus Christ in the face, if the other guy messes up.
But I already used a God of War joke/reference in this story when Naofumi said: Don't you shit talk BOY! BOY is a great name!
Because who is Atreus? His name is BOY (all CAPS letter).
To Kirby Fan:
Huh... I didn't even realize it but you are right. Balloon's mimicry ability IS similar to Kirby. I would have made a joke about them being the more psychopathic cousins of Kirby, except too many people already made the joke about him secretly being an omnicide psycho.